BY RICHARD C. GROSS
“. . . The evil that men do lives after them . . .”
— William Shakespeare, Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar,” Act 3, Scene 2
Donald J. Trump, arrested like a common criminal, has pleaded not guilty to 37 federal charges during an unprecedented arraignment of a former president, all in connection with taking highly classified documents and hiding them at his home from the government.
A CNN reporter said Trump appeared “glum,” seated at the defense table in a federal courthouse, his arms occasionally folded. He wore his traditional dark suit, white shirt and red tie.
“We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” Todd Blanche, Trump’s lawyer, told Judge Jonathan Goodman in the 13th floor room in Miami.
Goodman, whom the Miami Herald described as a “well-regarded veteran magistrate,” barred Trump from interacting with witnesses. That could be difficult because there may be witnesses among his employees at his resort-residence at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
That includes his aide, Waltine Nauta, who was charged with six criminal counts stemming from helping to move and hide boxes of documents and lying about it. Nauta, originally from Guam, was with Trump at the defense table but not arraigned because his lawyer was not present.
Cameras showed dozens of Trump supporters standing peacefully in 90-degree heat outside the courthouse, some carrying huge American and Trump flags, one emblazoned with “Trump Now” and another, “I Stand With Trump.”
Trump was not considered a flight risk, meaning he would be permitted to campaign for his third try at the presidency. Yes, he’s still running and could serve if reelected to a second term.
In the latest fund-raising email, Trump wrote he would “NEVER DROP OUT OF THE 2024 PRESIDENTIAL RACE,” adding, “They can indict me, they can arrest me, but I know . . . that I am an innocent man.”
Trump has been “weaponizing” his rhetoric with lies about the Biden government in order to ensure that his numerous followers will vote for him in the forthcoming Republican primary regardless of the criminal indictment against him.
Same old, same old playbook.
The last time he rallied his supporters was Jan. 6, 2021, when thousands of them attacked the Capitol. Eight members of two militias were convicted of seditious conspiracy, a serious crime.
In a speech Saturday at a Republican convention in Columbus, Ga., Trump again demonized the Justice Department, its FBI and those who charged him with crimes stemming from his alleged stealing of 300 documents.
“This is a sick nest of people that needs to be cleaned out immediately. Get ’em out,” he told about 2,000 party attendees, bringing them to their feet.
“This is the final battle,” Trump said.
He launched a tirade against his accusers and those campaigning against him for the 2024 Republican primary, calling them “fanatics and thugs,” “lawless,” “criminals,” “cowards” and “sinister forces.”
It’s incredible how Trump projects onto others personality traits and quirks that he embodies.
Trump’s playbook is the same as it has been throughout his career as a real estate developer and as president and former president: pretending to be the victim and falsely charging his accusers with conducting a “witch hunt” against him, his most popular refrain.
He also accuses the government of “weaponizing” the FBI and the Justice Department in order to eliminate him as a political competitor.
This is the “GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME,” he wrote on his Truth Social website. Only maybe.
The first real witch hunts and trials occurred in the 15th century in Italy and French- and German-speaking regions, according to the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition.
The upshot of after months of investigations — the federal indictment — appears to be the biggest blow to Trump ever. He could face many years of prison if he is convicted of any of the 37 counts against him. I doubt he’ll wind up behind bars because of his service as president.
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who handed up the indictment and sat in the front row of spectators in the courtroom, said he would seek a “speedy trial.” Trump did not interact with him.
He has labeled Smith a “deranged lunatic.” Now, now, that’s just not nice.
The indictment is well-deserved after eight years of treating Americans he swore to protect as fools, from ignoring COVID as president to telling us he won the 2020 election to referring to the FBI and other authorities as criminals.
The big unknown is whether those who voted for him twice and those in his army of far-right extremists who willingly obeyed his incitement to storm the Capitol that fateful Jan. 6 believe his tale of victimization and will rush to his defense on social media and elsewhere and will cast ballots for him in 2024, as if nothing has happened.
The early signs are not good, but The New York Times said Sunday, “In truth, the conservative world is divided.”
While 60 percent of Americans approved of New York state’s indictment of Trump in connection with hush money paid to an adult movie actress, 79 percent of Republicans disapproved, 54 percent of them strongly, according to a CNN poll conducted by SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).
And now, in the aftermath of the indictment, Trump’s supporters rallied to his defense, mirroring the rise for him in early polling following his New York indictment in April.
A CBS/YouGov poll showed that 61 percent of Republicans said the indictment would not change their views of Trump. More than three-fourths of Republican primary voters said the two indictments were politically motivated.
Trump and his allies have been beating the politicization drum since he lost the 2020 election, which he still insists he won. Unimaginable.
Further, about 12 million adults, 4.4 percent of the population, believe violence is justified to put Trump back in power, according to the Project on Security & Threats at the University of Chicago.
Trump is charged with storing classified documents in “a ballroom, bathroom and shower, his office space, his bedroom and a storage room” at Mar-a-Lago.
Photos show sensitive documents haphazardly spilled from a box on the floor of the bathroom, an expensive-looking chandelier lighting the room, others in closed cartons on the stage of the ballroom.
“If even half of it is true, he’s toast,” Trump’s final attorney general, William P. Barr, said on Fox “News” Sunday. “It is a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damning. This idea of presenting Trump as a victim here — a victim of a witch hunt — is ridiculous.”
Barr, Trump shot back on his Truth Social, is a “gutless pig.” That’s also not nice.
Clifford Young, the president of U.S. public affairs at Ipsos, a polling and marketing outfit, summed up the feeling among the public for the Sunday Times:
“For the average American in the middle, they’re appalled. But for the base, not only is support being solidified, they don’t believe what is happening. Heck, they believe he won the election.”
An example of that support appeared on Twitter Friday from right-wing Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona. He has called for dismantling the FBI.
“We have now reached a war phase,” he posted. “Eye for an eye.”
It’s about time Trump finally is being held accountable for something he’s done after a lifetime of more than 4,000 legal wrangles. But stuff happens. Trump in the past has slipped out of being held accountable in many lawsuits. We’ll see.
Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East, the Pentagon and was foreign editor of United Press International, was the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.